What is jazz?
Long answer, go look it up yourself, if you have time. I can use an entire Blogger server to try to explain it. In fact, I'm still trying to figure it out, and learn it as well. So the "server" in my brain is still trying to digest the 100-year history and the significance of jazz. But I'm not getting into that... what I'm getting into, is about being in a jazz band.
What's it like being in a jazz band?
The answer to that varies. I've played in jazz-based bands which are kick-a** and I've been in less than mediocre ones. The good bands I've played in have all one thing in common: respect. And also the spirit of teamwork.
Okay, so that's two things. Actually there's more lah.
This past five years have been quite interesting for me musically. I've listened to more jazz than the first eight years of my sax-playing life. And as each year passes, I come out having learnt and understanding more things than before, about jazz and playing music.
Playing jazz isn't about mindless, masturbatory soloing and showing off your chops (not to say my chops are great... I'm still working on it). Playing jazz is about playing any music... it's about making music. Every musician in a jazz band (or any band for that matter) has an important role in the band. A musician in a jazz band isn't isolatory... a jazz band is a single entity, and each component in the entity must function with the rest of the group to able to create music and make sense out of it. The moment one person in the band starts to lose sight of that, the equilibrium and the synergy of the music will fall apart. It becomes a one man show. Can you imagine what happens if one of your body parts, say, your HAND, starts to have a life of its own? Scary right?
Yours truly have been guilty of such indiscretion. Of course, at one point, every learning musician will go through this. It's a rite of passage, in a way. If you're lucky, you'll have people telling you off. If you're unlucky, no one will.. and you might spend the rest of your life thinking you're the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Where a band is concerned, it's about a group of musicians, with same understanding and respect for the music, coming together and trying to work together to make a statement, to create something beautiful together.
The drummer - he's the very foundation of where the band lies, the primary responsibility isn't only to keep time, but to lay the groove. The drums are the platform where the band stands on. It has to be firm, but also complementary to the rest of the band members.
The bassist - he's the backbone of the band. The bass player has a dual responsibility of laying the groove AND playing the root of the harmony of the song. His time, groove, and harmony must be firm.
The pianist/guitarist - the primary source of colors for the band. The chord and harmony players. They also provide some of the rhythmic colors in the band. Unless they're taking a solo, they're usually accompanying, or comping, the soloist. Comping usually involves playing the chords, in a rhythmic manner, which complements what the soloist is doing. In addition, the chord players also provide rhythmic or harmonic ideas for the soloist to feed off on, and the soloist will take it someplace from there. On SOME occasions, the pianist will reply a melodic idea from the soloist, and if the soloist reciprocates, the pianist will do the same (but probably with another idea), hence creating a "conversation" between the band members.
The soloist (singer, horn player, sometimes guitarist, instrumentalist) - he's the frontline of the band. For most part, they're usually in charge of playing the melody. If there's more than one frontliner, then there are usually separate harmonic voices playing the melody, creating a richer melody of the song. Their main role is to state the melody nice and clear, and augment and create more melodies in their solos.
It takes a certain amount of empathy, alongside musical understanding to try to complement each other in a band. There are times when a particular component in the band will have an idea, and if based on his musical empathy, the player feels that the idea can make the music more interesting, he will play it at the right time to feed ideas into the live musical process. This serves as possible interesting ideas for the particular soloist at the time, and he can feed off it, and take the music into a more interesting area.
Each of these components have their place in the band. There's a time and place for each members to play certain things. If any of them starts to go beyond a certain boundary, or to proverbialize it... stepping on others' toes... then, the whole thing becomes rojak! A real mess. When the soloist is playing or improvising, if the piano player starts to play and improvises melodies (than comping) more than the soloist, it gets in the way of the soloist, and not giving space. First thing - it's terribly irritating, and secondly it's basically taking away the only space the soloist have in trying to tell a story.
Imagine a coffee table conversation: one person talks, telling his story. While that person talks, another person tries to talk simultaneously, but not to complement or give ideas to the main person talking... but saying totally incongruent, irrelevant topics. Rude or not?
This concept applies to everyday dealings. If you work in a team, and a member in your team starts having illusions of glory and not thinking about the project at hand, he/she is going to be a liability in the the team, and you're not going to achieve your team goals. And most importantly, it's total disrespect and inconsideration to the rest of the team members. Next thing you know, you get fired!
Jazz... is about cooperation and respect, in line with fulfilling the same goal and objectives: Creating beautiful music.
It's not about showing how well you play or sing. Or showing off to your friends.
It's about making music.